The Recycling Paradox – Is Our Government really green, just misguided, or mean?


Vector drawing of  a plastic carrier bag with a red cross

Earlier today, my husband had a little ‘rant’. Now this is nothing unusual – hubby is prone to ranting about all manner of things, and to be honest I often turn a ‘deaf ear’ because its often on the same subject(s) and I kind of know them off by heart (and agree with some of them).  Today’s was a little different.

“Why,” he asked me, eyes blazing, “is the government trying to get retail outlets to charge us five pence for a carrier bag, yet they’re about to bring in an equally non-biodegradable product in the form of polymer banknotes?”

Well, I couldn’t answer him – not that he was expecting me to, of course, it being a rhetorical question at this point in time. But I got to thinking about it after he’d stomped off to do whatever it was he was doing before he had the urge to rant. And I found myself asking the same question – but not in a ranting kind of way. I would really like to know the answer.

We all know that the ubiquitous carrier bag problem is out of control. These pesky non-biodegradable ‘nasties’, whilst very helpful when you need something to put your shopping in because you forgot (yet again) to collect your ‘bag for life’ from the boot of the car (or perhaps even to put it in there in the first place), are clogging up landfill sites all over the UK (and probably the world).  They’ll still be here long after we have shuffled off this mortal coil, and probably long after our great-grandchildren.  The Government wants to stop us using so many, so it is telling retailers with more than a certain number of employees to charge customers five pence for every carrier bag they use, in the hope that more of us will remember to bring our ‘re-usable’ bags with us. So far, so good, you might think.

The Irish government tried it a few years ago – and it failed, because people decided that on the whole, they’d rather pay the five pence (or five cents, since they now use the Euro).  I suspect the same thing will happen here. And of course, it isn’t really going to work very well for online shopping – think how long it will take to unload your Sainsbury’s delivery if nothing is bagged… but apparently, the charge won’t apply for online shopping. Now I don’t know about you, but I find myself constantly bemused by the number of carrier bags some online shopping pickers use. One delivery driver explained to me that it was to do with categories of goods and contamination. Fair enough, but I’m not entirely convinced since it often appears very arbitrary to me, with goods that I think could go together (cosmetic and bathroom products, for instance) often being given different bags. But that’s kind of by the by… if we accept that the government is trying, at least, to reduce the plastic mountain, then all well and good.

Except wait – very soon we are going to have banknotes made from polymer rather than paper (which actually is a mix of cotton and paper, hubby tells me, and very degradable, as anyone who has accidentally washed a fiver or lost one to a curious puppy will know). These polymer notes are, if you listen to my husband, the devil’s own spawn. Not only do they not degrade, but the ink lifts off after a while, leaving you with a blank piece of plastic, which presumably will have to be replaced. How to explain to the shopkeeper or the bank cashier that it was a twenty pound note? Perhaps the size will be the only proof… but I digress.

These notes do not degrade. they last forever, unless you melt them down and turn them into park benches. Why park benches? I’ve no idea. If you could make housing or child-friendly paving from them it would be something, wouldn’t it, but park benches? How many park benches does the country need?  Not as many as it will get, I don’t mind betting.

The question I would very much like an answer to is this – doesn’t implementing polymer non-biodegradable bank notes rather cancel out anything the government is doing to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable carrier bags?

Answers on a postcard (or a comment below) please….

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